By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BAY RIDGE — The four-alarm blaze that destroyed business leader Bob Howe’s 81st Street house during the early morning hours of June 21 was an accident, the Fire Department of New York has confirmed.
“It was an accidental fire. It started in electrical wiring,” Firefighter Jim Long, a spokesman for the FDNY, said on June 25.
Howe, a lawyer who is the president of the Merchants of Third Avenue business organization, and his wife Diana Howe escaped the flames with just the clothes on their backs.
The three-story home at 168 81st St. in which the Howes lived for 28 years was destroyed in the blaze.
“We’re devastated,” Howe said as he stood on the sidewalk in front of his charred home a few hours after the fire was put out.
The fire began in electrical wires located outside the back deck of the house, Long said.
The house next door, located at 170 81st St., sustained extensive damage to the second floor, neighbors said.
Bob and his Diana Howe ran out of the house after their next-door neighbor banged on their front door to warn them about the fire.
“Thank God for my neighbor. Thank God we got out in time,” Howe said. “We got out just in time. We weren’t out of there five minutes when the whole house went up in flames.”
The blaze quickly escalated into a four-alarm fire, according to an FDNY spokesman.
“Over 40 units were called to the scene. We had more than 170 firefighters there,” the spokesman said.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries, according to the spokesman, who said the injuries included heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. The firefighters were taken to Lutheran Medical Center for treatment.
It took more than an hour for the firefighters to bring the blaze under control.
Fire marshals were called in to investigate and determine the cause of the blaze. Marshals are routinely called in to investigate when the cause of a fire is not immediately determined.
Howe is well known in Bay Ridge business circles and in Brooklyn politics. He has served as president of the Merchants of Third Avenue, a business group representing store owners on the avenue, for more than 10 years. He is also a vice chairman of the Kings County Republican Party.
His wife Diana, a designer, owns Howe Beautiful, a gift basket business. She designs custom-made gift baskets.
In the wake of the fire that destroyed their house, Bob and Diana Howe were welcomed by a neighbor who lives across the street from where the couple lived.
A few hours after the blaze was extinguished, fire marshals were examining the house as Howe and his neighbor stood on the sidewalk and watched. Dozens of 81st Street residents were standing on their front porches looking on as the marshals conducted the probe. The air was filled with the smell of the fire.
A previously scheduled meeting of Merchants of Third Avenue on June 25 was to be held as planned despite the fire's disruption, said Charles Otey, executive secretary.
“Bob would want us to move ahead with our agenda,” Otey said.